January 2015 By Pradeep Krishnan Pradeep Krishnan pays a visit to Anandashram in Kerala founded by the legendary Swami Ramdas, and interviews the present head, Swami Muktananda One ashram that I visit every year is Anandashram, Kanhangad, Kerala, to seek clarity and direction for my spiritual quest. Each visit has given me wonderful spiritual experiences that have strengthened me to face the vicissitudes of life with calmness and equanimity, thanks to the unique ashram environment that allows each aspirant to follow his own sadhana. My recent visit too was no exception. As soon as I stepped into the ashram milieu, the melodious chanting of the mantra, ‘Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram,’ reverberating the air at once filled my whole being with indescribable joy. Walking through the pathway leading to the bhajan hall, soaking in the greenery all around, my mind instantly went deep within, making me joyful and totally in tune with Existence. The ashram provides free food and accommodation to sincere seekers without insisting on allegiance to a particular custom, dogma, creed or belief. Anandashram was founded by P. Vittal Rao, who, at a very young age, was dissatisfied and restless with the life he was leading as a householder. Ultimately, on realizing the utter futility of worldly pursuits, God’s grace descended on him at the age of 36. Like the Buddha, the God-intoxicated Vittal Rao left everything and wandered the length and breadth of Bharat on foot as a mendicant living on alms and seeking asylum in temples and ashrams. His ceaseless quest eventually molded Vittal Rao into a spiritual master, Swami Ramdas (1884-1963). Devotees affectionately called him ‘beloved Pappa.’ Eventually in the year 1931, along with Mataji Krishna Bai, a direct disciple, Anandashram was established at Kanhangad, Kerala, as a facilitating centre for sincere sadhaks to pursue their own spiritual quest. After the passing away of the founders, the mantle of running the ashram fell on Swami Satchidanana (1919-2008), who was an embodiment of the divine love and universal compassion preached by Pappa and Mataji. During his tenure, seva activities of the ashram reached its zenith benefitting thousands of poor and needy. Swamiji was very particular that no one coming to the ashram seeking help must go empty-handed. The present head, Swami Muktananda, renounced his lucrative career in a private company in Chennai to join the ashram. He has been instrumental in launching two unique national movements in the educational sector, viz, Viswa Seva Educational Trust (VSET) and Value Integrated Teaching and Learning (VITAL) by the ashram. While VSET is intended to make children aware of the role of values and its application in daily life, VITAL aims at helping teachers inculcate a teaching model that facilitates the all-round growth of the individual, and thereby society. Every year, these programmes reach about a lakh participants in different parts of the country. Excerpts from the interview with Swami Muktanandaji: What is the aim and purpose of human life? The purpose of life is to attain a sense of fullness (poornam) at all levels. In other words, life’s journey is a movement from a sense of incompleteness to a sense of completion. This is the motivating factor behind all thoughts, emotions and actions at all levels, viz. childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and old age. This pursuit expresses in the form of learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and finally learning to BE. Do you see any difference between spiritual life and material life? Initially, yes. Later, when we try to identify the base factor which is behind all thoughts, words, actions it will become clearer and clearer to us that there is no difference. Often spiritual seekers are stuck in technicalities. How to overcome this? If one has clarity on the goal to be scaled and that the technicalities are only intermediaries to the goal, one will not get stuck with them. What is the method to bring to practice what we have listened, read or seen? If at the time of seeing, reading and listening, one clearly connects with the cherished ideal, then it stays with him, percolating into thoughts, words and actions. What is unique about Anandashram and Pappa–Mataji’s teachings? Here the ideal and the methodology to actualise the ideal are universal in its approach, in the sense, they can be followed by one and all without any prefix or suffix. You always say that the world we live in is a school. Please explain. Like a school, all that is available before us, in the form of Mother Nature, various living things, and the many experiences one gets while interacting with them, offer us immense possibilities for self-improvement. As many men, so many paths. Then why are we clinging to gurus, institutions? As everyone is unique, the path also has to be unique. However we need someone to awaken us and show us the path trodden by them to start with. Otherwise we may not know at all about the goal to be scaled. Later on, proportionate to one’s intensity, each one develops one’s own path. How to make surrender effective? Surrender of assumed ownership to the real owner seems to be very difficult. Please explain, Swamiji. Only when one tries to internalise the truth that we brought nothing when we came to this world nor can we take back anything when we leave it, does the quest to know the real owner begin. Through consistent sadhana, the above realisation will dawn on us, gradually paving the way to transfer the assumed ownership to the real Owner. How effectively can one perform nama, dhyana and seva? There should be clarity as to why we are taking this triune path. Nama is to remember that Power which is behind everything and dhyana is to feel the presence of that Power, and seva is to translate the feeling of the presence of that Power in our outward actions. If the clarity is not there, they can become just activities, hardly leaving any deep impress on our inner equipment. You say that life consists of four Es –ethics-earning-enjoyment and emancipation. Please clarify. In our childhood years, which is an impressionable age, we should be well grounded in moral and ethical values that connect us properly with the rest of creation. With that strong foundation we can earn our livelihood and also enjoy that which ispermissible. However at some stage in life, one would feel that all objects, emotions and thoughts that one has been hugging as one’s own, are nothing but bondage and therefore a deep desire to free oneself from all that wells up, and then one strives for the emancipation. I have often felt that we are a body-mind-intellect complex mechanism over which one has no control whatsoever. Do we really have control over our lives? By and large sense objects and sense organs dominate us in our transactions with the world outside and hence we feel that we have no control over them. At the same time, when we learn that there is a Power behind them, followed by closeobservation of the dynamics of our mind and body, we will come to gradually realise that the body and the mind are only conditionings given to us, to carry on the life. They are not the masters by themselves. Swamiji, tell us something about how to make the spiritual journey fruitful? By constantly trying to bring in the role/relevance of the Spirit, the Power in all our thoughts, words and actions, the spiritual journey can be hastened. Swamiji, your message to our readers? “Your life is a gift from the Creator. Your gift to the Creator is what you do with your life,” as a master said. About the author Pradeep Krishnan is a seeker, based in Trivandrum, Kerala. He is a student of consciousness, deeply attached to the teachings of Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
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